Swimming veteran Prithie Bhagowatt. Pictures: Supplied
Durban - The first black lifesaver to get an instructor’s certificate in South Africa, Prithie Bhagowat, died last week.

A friend described the 74-year-old, of Asherville, as a popular figure in the community.

Bhim Singh, who competed against him in the pool, said: “Prithie formed clubs and taught children to swim because he wanted to keep them away from drugs and other bad elements.

“In our younger days we competed in galas and we would always be the top two. When he started his swim career professionally, I felt a little lonely as he was a strong opponent. He pushed me to also become a lifeguard and I did.”

Bhagowat then relocated as a lifeguard to the Pearls Swimming Club in Pietermaritzburg where he formed the first swim club.

“In 1963, he even taught me to surf. He was an outstanding surfer and we spent our entire lives at the beach.”

According to Singh, 74, Bhagowat, who later became a swim club captain and ran the Surf Lifesaving Club until 2008, led from the front.

“He was a good instructor. We have truly lost a great figure in the swim world.”

Bhagowat, who retired in early 2000, had also won the Iron Man challenge in 1968.

His daughter, Charmeela, said: “He had a heart of gold and always did whatever he could to assist the community. He held CPR classes in areas including KwaMashu and uMlazi, for free. I think his selflessness came about at a young age, when he had to leave school and work full-time to support his family.”

She added that he derived happiness from seeing his students swim independently.

Her youngest brother, Gresh- an, was also a lifeguard and worked alongside their dad until he moved to the UK.

Bhagowat’s ashes were scattered at Snake Park Beach last week where he used to volunteer before turning professional.